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The Illustrious Dead


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About the Author

STEPHAN TALTY is a widely published journalist who has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Men's Journal, Time Out New York, Details, and many other publications. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Empire of Blue Water and Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture.


As much a history of typhus as it is a history of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, this book presents both subjects in graphic detail, leaving the reader with no illusions of the "glory" of 19th-century warfare. In the spring of 1812, Napoleon assembled the largest army seen in Europe up to that time for the invasion and conquest of Russia-690,000 men under arms, most of whom would actually cross into Russian territory, followed by approximately 50,000 civilians. That's more people than lived then in Paris; this moving population would have ranked as the fifth-largest city in the world. Some 500,000 of them would never return, less than a quarter of them dying as a result of combat; the reason for most of the deaths is the subject of this book. Using contemporary sources, Talty (Empire of Blue Water) presents the whole horrifying experience as lived by the common soldier, the doctors, and officers up the ranks to the generals. He makes his case for the typhus being transmitted by the body louse. Strangely enough, the disease was no longer prevalent in Europe after 1814. Strongly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/09.].-David Lee Poremba, Winderemere, FL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, typhus ravaged his army, killing hundreds of thousands and ensuring his defeat, according to this breathless combination of military and medical history. After summarizing the havoc this disease wreaked on earlier armies and sketching Napoleon's career, the book describes his invasion of Russia with more than 600,000 men. Almost immediately typhus struck. Infected lice excrete the microbe in their feces, and victims acquire the disease by scratching the itchy bite. Talty (Mulatto America) describes the effects in graphic detail: severe headache, high fever, delirium, generalized pain and a spotty rash. Death may take weeks, and fatalities approached 100% among Napoleon's increasingly debilitated, filthy, half-starved soldiers. Talty makes a good case that it was typhus, not "General Winter," that crushed Napoleon. Readers should look elsewhere for authoritative histories of Napoleon's wars and of infectious diseases, but Talty delivers a breezy, popular account of a gruesome campaign, emphasizing the equally gruesome epidemic that accompanied it. 12 maps. (June) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"An eloquent and vivid portrait that includes a view through the telescopes of rear-echelon
commanders, the rifle sights of front-line skirmishers, and the clouded spectacles of field surgeons laboring in candlelit abattoirs . . . the finest kind of popular history."
-William Rosen, author of Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire

Praise for Empire of Blue Water
"A swashbuckling adventure . . . [the] characters leap to life."
The New York Times Book Review

"Reeking of authentic blood and thunder, and as richly detailed as a work of fiction . . . dramatically evokes the rough and tumble age when pirates owned the seas. A thrilling and fascinating adventure."
-Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance

"Stephan Talty's vigorous history of seventeenth-century pirates of the Caribbean will sate even fickle Jack Sparrow fans. A pleasure to read from bow to stern."
-Entertainment Weekly

"Serves up swashbuckling history at its briny, blood-soaked best, with enough violence and passion to keep the pages flying by."
-Tom Reiss, author of The Orientalist

"Talty's delicious new book succeeds where other volumes of history fail. . . .A ripping yarn, worthy of its gaudy subject."
-Dallas Morning News

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